Digimon Adventure: Last Evolution Kizuna ( shortened here to “Digimon Kizuna” ) is available to rent from various online services.
Yes, they're the two pillar “monster-taming” series of the late-nineties, with names sharing a catchy “Hmm-dee-mon” rhythm. But they've never been particularly close together in my mind. Pitting them against each other creates a false dichotomy – which practically all dichotomies are, really.
I adore Pokémon for its setting, its sense of wonder and exploration, and most of all, for the critters themselves. It's a sandbox where my inner eight-year-old's imagination still runs free after all this time.
But Digimon, with Kizuna as its swan-song movie to twist the knife, is a very different and more personal beast. It was always about specific stories with specific characters who bounced off each other in specific ways. With Digimon, you're sticking around for the people.
People who can – and eventually must – leave you.
Digimon Kizuna does its best to try to convince you, in its very first visual cut, that it isn't a movie about nostalgia.
It totally is.
The opening scene features a frenzied fight across Tokyo, a thuddingly obvious call-back to its pilot episode. Except where its kid heroes used to be near-helpless first-graders, here they're a well-meshed team. A man at mission control, directing agents over earpieces, who in turn spike a three-story monster around to their own theme tune. It reads less as the original's terror-adjacent kaiju send-up and more like a wise-cracking showstopper from an Avengers flick.
But at the same time, it's quaint, seeing these kids I used to see myself in… still wresting with college exit exams. This digital-forward movie finds its setting in the far-advanced year of 2010, after all – it's these characters' first story featuring smartphones. And I clearly remember what the days of the first iPhone were like, sure, but it feels barely closer than high school these days.
Now, I try not to directly cast one story as another too often. Call any game a “Zelda-like”, and you immediately start measuring it against the unfair yardstick of A Link to the Past. It's not a fair look, let alone especially useful past the surface level.
But to give an idea of where this movie hits its core audience – or, at least, tries to?
This movie was a second serving of Toy Story 3. Just… five or ten years out-of-sync.
So Digimon Kizuna has to use other tricks to turn its clock forward.
If Tri. puts the old gang in their classic format with a new context, Kizuna has them realize the format itself can't hold forever. Nerdy Izzy is waist-deep in the corporate world, Leader Tai and Lancer Matt have no post-university plans… everybody either jump-started their adulthood, or is getting dragged along with the current anyway.
Of the original core cast, Sora is already conspicuously sparse, and that's no accident.
It's not my place to speak to the details, but Japanese voice actors are much more strongly tied to their roles than most actors are in the West. Goku as a wee lad back was the right job for a voice actress in 1986; today, she's an octogenarian voicing the universe's strongest anime-man.
Usually this keeps an individual character's identity strong. But, with a big enough cast, eventually something breaks up the band.
Needless to say, cancer continues to suck as much as it's always sucked.
And so Sora is gone, and there's an appropriately-shaped hole in the story to respect that.
Everyone was already on their way there, but with one member already down-and-out in a painfully real way, these kids have run their course. They've not only already passed off the torch, but taken it back for a victory lap – arguably a hat trick. Only so many “last hurrahs” you can pull before you're just out of steam – or dragging bodies across the finish line.
( As an aside – with that context, it's buck-wild to me that Digimon Kizuna would still use Koji Wada's iconic “Butter-Fly” as its theme after his passing. Some traditions are just too hard to let go of, I suppose. )
But I like to think that Digimon at least has the sense to paper over this with a veneer of thoughtfulness.
Digimon Kizuna‘s messaging can be all over the place, down to its dueling mantras – “we'll meet again” against “this'll be our last adventure”. Opposite sentiments on a first read, and definitely taken that way given the in-universe countdown timer until the titular Digimon poof into digi-dust.
But these kids we've watched struggle with themselves for twenty years will continue to struggle with themselves their whole lives. We've seen enough of the world to know that Agumon and Gabumon will, someday, be born again. I'll still find the latter charming-if-dorky, and I'll still find that Tai's post-college-life crisis is uncomfortably applicable to impostor syndrome at any age.
It's almost like the morals we point at younger folk don't stop mattering once we hit eighteen.
And so I prefer Digimon Kizuna‘s take on how we eventually must age out of the original series. Not in the sense that we just drop it on the floor, but that it's a formative base to layer for whatever stories and circumstances come next. These kids are literally powered by core principles like “Sincerity” and “Reliability”, for crying out loud; that's the kind of bedrock that functioning adult lives are built on.
On to Survive
I'm going to disagree with Digimon Kizuna just a bit, though: I'm hardly going to stop indulging in a little childhood adventure any time soon. Most certainly not when they're targeting them directly at me, the devils.
…you didn't really think that I'd write about Digimon during JRPG July and not mention the long-awaited Digimon Survive, did you?
Oh, the clearly-uncomfortable coincidence of Survive of all titles being the long-suffering victim of an ongoing global pandemic – one that started just at the right time to shut down Digimon Kizuna‘s U.S. release.
But I wouldn't miss it for the world.
I've got a soft spot for visual novels. I read less than I'd like, sure. But coat them in the right flavor – maybe pack in an art book – and I'll still bite.
And so I'm looking forward to when Digimon Survive hits next week.
After all these years, the same structure rings out to me. Eight friends and their super-pets, hanging together despite it all. Survive likely won't be the most complicated take on a survivalist story, nor morally-challenging. But if I know Digimon, I'll be blown over not to get a story that's oh-so-charmingly forthright.
Digimon never strays too far from its core. Still a little goofy, still a lot heartfelt. Never talking down, but bringing everyone up to the same level.
That strong core endures, and a strong core is how you build strong people.
That's how you build a strong self.